Throughout April, I’m tackling 26 A to Z topics related to children’s literature. It’s U Day, which means it’s time to address one of my favorite kid lit-related topics: unplugged imagination!
I am going to begin with a disclaimer: I think technology is great. I use it in some form all day, every day. Whether it’s texting my husband to ask him to pick up toilet paper, using my laptop to write, or ordering books online, technology makes life pretty darn good.
But technology is like cake. One slice is really good. Mmmmmm. Two slices are a real treat! Three slices can make you really full. But four slices?
Urrrrrgh. Talk about a belly ache.
Just like we limit how much cake we eat, it’s a good thing to limit how much time we spend glued to technology. Which is why one of the values promoted in the Sarah & Katy books is unplugged imagination.
What is unplugged imagination?
Unplugged imagination is the term I use to describe activity and play that doesn’t include batteries, chargers, cords, or plugs. Such activities could include:
- Reading (*physical books, magazines, or newspapers — no e-readers)
- Playing outdoors
- Make-believe games
- Drawing or art projects
- Writing a story
The benefit of unplugged imagination is that children exercise their imagination without using technology as a crutch. Instead of playing a video game, where the story is laid out and predetermined, children can create and act out their own stories in worlds they’ve created.
My nieces, Sarah and Katy (who inspired the Sarah & Katy series) are champs at the unplugged imagination. During one visit to my house, their imaginations seized upon a paperweight on my desk. It was a glass, diamond-shaped desk ornament, but to them it was the crown jewel in a museum. From there, their imaginations ran away with a full plot and cast of characters that became the subject of a previous blog post.
It’s OK to be inspired by technology. For example, one of Sarah and Katy’s favorite make-believe games to play with me is Escape From Bowser. Whenever the whole family is gathered at my parents’ country home, there’s a good chance we’ll end up in the backyard playing a game in which Sarah, Katy, and I are a blend of characters from the Mario Bros. games, Legend of Zelda, and Star Wars. Sometimes we’re Peach, Zelda, and Amidala. Other times we’re Daisy, Sheik, and Leia. The bad guy is always Bowser.
Even though the game borrows from movies and video games, the girls exercise their imaginations in creating their own plots and situations. A bonus: They’re outside running around. (Well, it’s a bonus for them … I’m usually huffing and puffing to keep up by the third or fourth time one of them screams, “Look out! Bowser!” and we go running to the other end of the yard.)
The same goes for older children who dabble in art or writing. Want to draw a picture of Link wielding his sword? Great! Want to write a Doctor Who fan fiction piece? Go for it! The point of unplugged imagination is to create and exercise creativity. Imagination is like a muscle — it needs a good workout a few times a week. The more it gets used, the more ideas and creative solutions a brain is able to make.
Unplugged imagination reading suggestions
I can be a bit of a broken record when it comes to my go-to list of reading recommendations, but here are a few books (including my own) that feature the unplugged imagination at work:
- Sarah & Katy and the Imagination Blankets
- Sarah & Katy and the Book of Blank
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
- The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards
- The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
- The Nowhere Box by Sam Zuppardi